Okland Construction crews have spent the last two months transforming a former parking lot at Park Central into the bones of what will become the Creighton University Health Sciences — Phoenix Campus. The pomp and ceremony finally caught up to the actual construction on the site on Wednesday, as Creighton University officials, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and a host of other dignitaries gathered for the official “groundbreaking’ for the $100 million facility.

“This is great for the citizens of Arizona, it’s terrific for the city of Phoenix,” Governor Ducey said during his remarks. “I can’t wait to send a picture to the governor of Nebraska.”

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey speaks to the crowd gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Creighton University Health Sciences — Phoenix Campus at Park Central Mall in Phoenix. (Photo by Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media)

Ducey’s line drew laughter from the crowd, but the addition of this health sciences education campus is much needed in Arizona. 

“We know that the need for health care workers in Arizona and across the country is just going to continue to grow,” Ducey said. “We know in order to meet our growing demand, and the demands are great, Arizona needs to grow our supply of healthcare professionals and that’s exactly what this new campus will help us do.”

The building is expected to be ready by Fall of 2021 and will total 183,000 square feet. It will house the Creighton health sciences students in Arizona, who currently operate out of a smaller office. Creighton President Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ noted that the Omaha-based university has strong ties with Arizona, with 2000 alumni in the state (1,500 in Phoenix alone) and more than 250 Creighton educated physicians practicing in Arizona.

“We’ve been sending medical students to Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center for clinical rotations for nearly 14 years,” Rev. Hendrickson said. “Creighton came to Phoenix to help meet the need and growing demand for medical professionals in this area and we are honored to play a major role in the dramatic transformation that is about to take place on Arizona’s healthcare landscape and to be doing so on one of Phoenix’s most iconic properties.” 

The program will enroll approximately 900 students and include a four-year medical school, nursing school, occupational and physical therapy schools, pharmacy school, physician assistant school and emergency medical services program. 

Mayor Gallego also noted the transformation that is happening around Park Central. Spearheaded by Creighton graduate Sharon Harper, president and CEO of Plaza Companies, Park Central has undergone renovations and will soon be home to more than 1,000 health sciences students, faculty and support personnel.

“Park Central has been so important for generations of Phoenicians and now it will be used for building the future of our great city,” Gallegos said. “It comes at a time for record investment in healthcare in our community. In a 24-month period, Phoenix will see more than 4.4 million square feet of new construction, more than $3 billion in investment and 7,000 new jobs.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego speaks to the crowd gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Creighton University Health Sciences — Phoenix Campus at Park Central Mall in Phoenix. (Photo by Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media)

“So for Creighton, we have a lot of opportunity and need for your graduates.”

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council estimates Creighton’s expansion will create more than 250 jobs; $124.5 million in personal income; $12 million in tax revenues and more than $300 million in total economic output.  

“We are extremely grateful to be in Phoenix and to be working with such great partners,” said Rev. Daniel. “Together, we hope to guide the changing medical landscape and bring the extraordinary skills and care of Creighton-educated health care professionals to the people who need them the most.” 

For more than a decade, Creighton University has been an academic mainstay in Phoenix, sending medical students to Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center for rotations. 

In 2009, Creighton teamed up with St. Joseph’s to establish a School of Medicine in Phoenix. More recently, Creighton and St. Joseph’s partnered with District Medical Group and Valleywise Health (formerly known as Maricopa Integrated Health System) to form the Creighton University Arizona Health Education Alliance. The Alliance aims to increase the number of physicians and other health care professionals in Arizona by improving and expanding current health education programs.

“We are very pleased to be working with Creighton University to make this exceptional medical facility a reality,” said Sharon Harper, BA’69, chair of the Presidential Phoenix Health Sciences Advisory Board, and chair and CEO of Plaza Companies, the building’s developer. “The new building will help fill a critical need in the Arizona medical community.” 

Creighton’s infusion of medical professionals comes at a crucial time for Arizona, which faces both a boom in population and a shortfall in medical professionals. By 2030, the state is expected to have just one primary care doctor for every 1,500 people. 

Creighton will help face this shortage not just by bringing more health care professionals to the state but keeping them there. Over the past decade, more than 70% of the medical students Creighton has placed in Arizona have remained in-state — with hundreds more on the way over the next decade.

From left, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, Creighton University President Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego take part in the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Creighton University Health Sciences — Phoenix Campus at Park Central Mall in Phoenix. (Photo by Mike Mertes, AZ Big Media)

 “Our Phoenix campus will increase the number of Creighton University graduates in the state of Arizona,” said School of Medicine Dean Bo Dunlay, MD. “It is important to realize that we are not just training health care personnel. Rather, we are forming distinctive Creighton physicians, Creighton nurses and Creighton therapists dedicated to caring for the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of those we serve in the Jesuit tradition.”

The state is also in need of nurses, with a projected shortage of 50,000 by 2030. Nurse by nurse, Creighton is pushing back against this trend with rapid growth. Last year, enrollment for Creighton nursing students exceeded 1,000 for the first time in the college’s history. 

In December 2018, Creighton graduated it first class of accelerated nursing students in Phoenix. The fourth class enrolled in August 2019.

“Creighton’s College of Nursing is growing to produce more of the highly competent and compassionate nurses for whom we are known,” said Dean Catherine Todero. “In doing this, we can combat the nationwide nursing shortage that is particularly acute in the Southwest.” 

Creighton’s Health Sciences – Phoenix Campus will anchor the redevelopment of Park Central Mall, the city’s first large-scale shopping mall. Plaza Companies and Tucson’s Holualoa Companies have teamed up to change the space from a retail center to an almost 500,000-square-foot community hub suited to work, play and, of course, education. 

Construction on the building at 3100 N. Central Ave. started this summer. Okland Construction will be the general contractor for the first phase of the building. Butler Design Group will serve as the architect, and RDG Planning & Design as the conceptual and tenant design and improvement architect. 

Creighton University, based in Omaha, Nebraska, is one of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the U.S. It enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduates and more than 4,000 graduate and professional students among nine schools and colleges. No other university its size offers students such a comprehensive academic environment with personal attention from faculty-mentors. Creighton has been top-ranked by U.S. News & World Report for more than 20 years.